Originally Reviewed on 4/18/2015 – revised 3/25/2016
Christianity and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State by Lawrence Vance.
Like many in the American church, I grew up believing in the truth of the scriptures and in a lot of other bits of American culture about which it was not explained that these things are not part of Christianity. I remember scoffing when I first heard that some church people think that “early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” comes from the Bible. But I never scoffed at the confusion between “Christian duty” and “civic duty” concerning military service. Being a Methodist, there was no real escape from the hippies and leftists that I would occasionally encounter. But I thought I had plenty of reason to dismiss their opinions about most topics anyway; how could I take them seriously about the military.
Reconciling my belief in Christianity with my belief in the military was only occasionally challenged and I always found plenty of examples to cite for why it was perfectly fine for a Christian to join the military and fight in a war. The example of the Centurion’s servant being healed by Jesus, or Peter baptizing the family of Cornelius. In both cases, I would argue, Jesus never confronted the Centurion about his career, so he must not have a had a problem with it. And the commandment about killing, well that is actually about murder, not the killing of when applying justice or fighting wars.
I doubt I would have listened to Lawrence Vance when young, nor would I have given much consideration to his book. I was not a serious person back then. I may not be one now, but I want to think about the things that I believe as a Christian and I want to ponder how the scriptures address my life. Vance begins with an essay on the conflict between Christianity and reasoning for war. He quotes American presidents and Christian writers both for and against. The strongest cases made are the antiwar ministers of the 1800s. One of the strength of these writings is that they belie the idea that Christians in this country have always viewed war as the modern Christian community does.
I think that Vance’s book is a Valuable starting point for Christians to consider whether we have confused our religion with our culture. It is a way of resetting our minds about how we should think about how Jesus actually wanted us to view militarism versus the soldier himself. Jesus did not confront every sinner about their sin in the way that we would have liked him to, so why would he have treated soldiers any differently?
My many friends and relatives, whom I believe to be Christians, that have served in the armed forces may not agree with this view. But my mind has been changed about war and military service. This book is one of the influences that have led me to this different perspective.